What I’m referring to as “the Awakened Heart” is the concept of Relative Bodhichitta.
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Bodhichitta is the mind of awakening. It’s what motivates and inspires us. It’s coming from a place of love and compassion in the things we do and our interactions with others. Our true nature is this Awakened Heart. We don’t always see it because we are afflicted by the things we struggle with, but it’s always there underneath. The Awakened Heart is the sky. Your struggles and emotional baggage are the weather. The Awakened Heart is our true nature, so we all have the potential to awaken to it. We have to see through the things that obscure it. That sounds more simple than it is.
In ‘The Power of Mind’ Khentrul Lodro Thaye describes Bodhichitta as, “the consummate kind heart. It is the ground from which all positive qualities and insights grow, the springboard for our spiritual journey. If we are motivated by the great intention to benefit others, calm abiding, also known as shamatha, and other forms of meditation will be easily accomplished and profound insight meditation, vipassana, which is the recognition of true nature, will progress.”
If our minds and hearts are right, everything else will follow from this. I think there’s a reason why a lot of ancient Buddhist texts start with cultivating virtue and move on to mindfulness after. It makes things easier for us. I’m reminded of that Mark Twain quote, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” When we don’t come from a place of Bodhichitta, it can cause us all sorts of problems. If our motivation isn’t the Awakened Heart, then our meditation may not take us very far. That’s what, I think, people are missing when they try to teach Buddhist meditation without other Buddhist teachings. Intention setting matters. And if our intentions are unselfish, that is for the best.
The text “The 37 Practices of All Bodhisattvas” by Tokme Zangpo says: “All suffering, without exception, springs from the desire for one’s own happiness; Perfect enlightenment is born from a mind intent on benefiting others.”
Khentrul Lodro Thaye goes on to say: “The root of all suffering is our intense clinging to the idea of our identity – what we call the self – and the extreme attachment to that self – what we call selfishness – which leads to afflictive thoughts and emotions. The root of all happiness is the wish to benefit others and the pursuit of ultimate freedom, is what we call Bodhichitta.”
Our normal way of thinking involves some measure of selfishness and even self obsession at times. This is not really who we are. You are not a selfish and broken person. But, when our motivations are selfish, when we are obsessed with ourselves and our desires, that doesn’t tend to make us happy. More often it makes us bitter because we see others that appear to be getting more of what they want than us. Our disturbing emotions come from self clinging. Seeing ourselves as more important than others and obsessing about our desires simply will not make us happy. Your desires can’t all be filled no matter what you do. There’s always more to chase after. Also we sometimes feel incredible aversion when something gets in the way of our happiness. We make the perfect the enemy of the good all the time.
Bodhichitta is the powerful tool that we’re using to tame our minds. To develop and strengthen bodhichitta, we train our minds with formal meditation practice. This is something we’re all doing within our minds. It doesn’t happen outside of us. The killer is in the house. When we do these trainings and we work to cultivate the Awakened Heart, we are creating and strengthening a habit. This can change our lives.
The Zen Master Han Shan Deqing said, “The mountain of wisdom is not like other mountains, the further we climb, the faster we grow.”
Mountain climbing gets harder and harder the higher you go. Cultivating the Awakened Heart isn’t like that. Your insights set the table for more insights on this path. So, repetition is really what does something for us.
The Awakened Heart is described as the compassionate wish to help others and it’s focused on all beings, no exceptions. This is founded on recognizing that all beings want happiness and want to not suffer. All beings have many of the same struggles as us. This can be a tricky thing. We can easily hear about compassion for all beings and then stop and think “well, not that person.” This can be a real challenge. We tend to have closed hearts and I want to suggest having open hearts instead. Compassion is our nature and closing our hearts doesn’t make us happy. We can dare to be compassionate instead.
In 2016 a teacher named Lama Lena led a retreat at the Rime Center and she said something that has stuck with me. She taught us something called “The Practice That Takes The Open Heart as the Path to Awakening” and she said, “It can be hard to open our hearts because we’ve all been kicked in the heart in the past. This causes us to want to have closed hearts for protection.”
This was a big revelation to me at the time. We’ve all been kicked in the heart. Everyone you meet has. Most of us have many times. We could easily be cynical and think this Awakened Heart stuff is nonsense. But I want you to give it a chance. We’re sometimes taught that compassion isn’t cool. People throw around terms like ‘bleeding heart’ and ‘snowflake’ to try to be derogatory toward those of us that are trying to manifest kindness and compassion.
An open heart is a good thing.
Here’s a talk I gave at the Rime Center on this subject:
Here are some more talks you can listen to:
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